To be honest, I wasn’t all that gung-ho about Tim Wakefield’s chances to make the All-Star team. Then, Saturday came along.
Wakefield was brilliant in a 1-0 win over Atlanta, giving up just three hits and a walk over six innings of work. It was the second 1-0 win started by Wakefield in his Red Sox career, the other being a May 30, 1995 victory in Oakland.
That was Wakefield’s second start for Boston. Saturday was his 382nd
Wakefield was 7-1 by the time the Midsummer Classic came in ‘95, but wasn’t really considered for the squad thanks to his limited service that season (his first start didn’t come until May 27). But after dropping his first game on June 14, a 5-3 loss at Toronto, Wakefield whipped off 10 straight victories, a memorable run that petered out with a solid level of inefficiency from there on out.
Almost 200 wins later, Wakefield is finally in the All-Star discussion, though as is often the case with these things, that hardly solidifies him as a candidate.
Aside from Phil Niekro (a five-time All-Star), knuckleballers and the All-Star Game rarely go hand-in-hand. Perhaps one reason for that is recalling the ineptitude with which Rich Gedman caught Charlie Hough in 1986. Catching the knuckleball is a skill not easily picked up by those catchers not used to the experience. Tossed into the fire, it can cause a normally-stellar American League catcher to look downright goofy behind the plate. And in a game where it COUNTS, you think Joe Maddon wants to risk home-field advantage for the World Series over a passed ball?
Here’s what Gedman said about the experience, in the book, “The Midsummer Classic” by David Vincent, Lyle Spatz, and David W. Smith: “That was embarrassing. It’s just a matter of getting used to the knuckleball, which I’m not.
Hough had brought an oversized catchers mitt with him to the game, and gave it to Gedman. No dice. “The balls that he missed didn’t really get away from him,” he said. “He just missed them with his glove.”
Speaking of that game, that was Hough’s first – and only – All Star appearance, 16 years into his career. If Wakefield makes it this season, it will have come 17 years after his major league debut.
With 10 wins, Wakefield has already matched his win total of a year ago, and is currently on pace to win 22. He leads the AL in wins, along with Zach Greinke, Roy Halladay, and Kevin Slowey, all of whom are locks to make the AL squad, though one could argue why Slowey is considered a shoo-in while Wakefield has to sweat it out. Over 94 2/3 innings, Wakefield has allowed 93 hits and 44 earned runs. Over 87 2/3, Slowey has surrendered 108 hits and 43 earned runs for the Twins.
Yet when it comes down to a coin flip between the two for a spot – which it very well might – one could figure that Maddon has enough baseball intelligence to understand what it a selection might mean for a 42-year-old first-timer. Yes, the game COUNTS, but isn’t that the sort of story line we’re missing in the MLB All-Star Game, which has become about as irrelevant as every other mid-season exhibition (and especially the NFL’s postseason charade) on the sporting landscape? And wouldn’t the intrigue of seeing whether or not Joe Mauer could hand the knuckler be reason enough to tune in?
Of course, Wakefield’s WHIP of 1.36 is neither a stat that concerns nor impresses (same goes for Slowey’s 1.40), his ERA isn’t as sexy as Greinke’s sub-2.00 mark, and he indeed has not been as consistently dominant as teammate Josh Beckett.
But this season is up there with the best we’ve ever seen from Wakefield. On Saturday, he tied Roger Clemens for the most starts in a Red Sox uniform, and he’s now 18 wins away from tying him and Cy Young for the most wins in club history.
In 1995, there was no All-Star appearance for Wakefield, but he did finish third in the Cy Young balloting. He keeps it up, he’ll get a few more votes this season, though the Cy is likely going to go to one of Greinke, Halladay, or Beckett.
The All-Star Game, that’s in Maddon’s hands, and aside from Terry Francona, there may not be another AL manager out there more willing – or likely – to give him his due.